Current Institutional Affiliation
Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2017
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, Harvard University
The Limits of Empire: The Gurkha War, Qing China’s Borderlands, and the Trans-Himalayan Paradigm, 1788–1793

I am applying for the IDRF grant to support the research for my dissertation, which uses warfare and empire-building process to reconceptualize the geographical space of Asia. The Gurkha War (1788–1793, hereafter abbreviated as "the War") was initially launched by the Nepalese Gurkha Kingdom's invasion of Tibet, which was under the suzerainty of the Qing Empire in China. It subsequently developed into a war between the Gurkhas and a joint force of Tibetans and the Qing Empire, ending up with the Qing punitive invasion and inclusion of Nepal under the Qing imperial tributary system. While much has been written on Qing imperial history, my dissertation is the first monograph in any language to examine the War, an important yet understudied trans-regional event that remains important in China's discourses on Tibet and South Asia today. My central argument is that the War, marking the last stage of the Qing expansion era, is crucial in understanding the nature and limits of Qing empire-building process in both military and ideological aspects. An equally important part of my argument is that the War reveals the key role Tibet played in shaping the trans-regional nature of Qing empire-building by bridging the border of Qing China with South Asian states, such as Nepal, India, and the British Empire represented by the East Indian Company and thus included Qing into a larger geopolitical context of global competition of imperial expansion; it also introduced the Qing state into what I decided to call the "Trans-Himalayan Network," a time-honored, locally-contingent trans-regional system of trade, culture, and diplomacy that challenged many of the Qing Empire's conquering presuppositions. In order to document these complex relations and reconstruct the War panoramically, I will employ a wide range of sources—most being government documents and official correspondence—in five languages (Chinese, Manchu, Tibetan, Nepali, and English).